Alexander II: The Last Great Tsar

Where would Russian history be without tragedy? It would be like France without revolution, Spain without imperialism or Nick's flat without that strange smell that just won't go away.

One of the most tragic figures you may not be aware of is Alexander II--otherwise known as the great emancipator. Alexander's reforms may have been revolutionary at the time, however his deeds and eventual downfall have since been mostly overlooked. It's all a bit tragic really.

Once referred to as the Russian Lincoln, Alexander II rose from unassuming origins to completely reform the Russian society. In doing so, he ended capital punishment, promoted local government and abolished serfdom--not bad for a twenty-six year rule. The fact that he managed this two years before Lincoln released his own emancipation proclamation shows just how revolutionary his ideas were.

The assassination of Alexander II, drawing by G. Broling, 1881

While many of his policies had a hugely positive effect on the Russian lower classes, many were disappointed that they did not go far enough. This, coupled with backlash from more privileged areas of society, resulted in widespread anger and social instability.

Alexander's reign sadly came to a premature end after his assassination in 1881, ushering in decades of repression and culminating in the revolution of 1917. Many have speculated what kind of country Russia would have become had Alexander survived, but it was certainly on track to taking its first steps as a democratic nation.

In this episode of The Gallimaufry, we look into the life of Alexander II, his forward-thinking policies, desperate grip on power and tragic end. You knew this one wouldn't have a happy ending though, right?